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Iowa State University Extension offers resources to cow-calf producers recovering from drought

Amy Mayer
IPR file
This year's drought meant some farmers had to feed their animals supplemental protein and feed, and are paying higher prices for hay this winter.

Dustin Puhrmann says his 20 cows grazed his O’Brien County pastures down further than he would’ve liked to see this past summer.

O’Brien County along with other parts of northwest Iowa saw extreme drought conditions for at least 15 weeks this year. Because of the drought, Puhrmann’s grass didn’t get enough moisture to grow back.

Puhrmann had enough acres of pasture to feed his cows over the summer. But he is also a beef production specialist for a local cooperative, where he specializes in feedlot nutrition and some cow-calf nutrition, and he said some farmers he works with had to feed their cows and calves with supplemental proteins and feeds.

“As it gets dry and the resources become less, you have to bring in outside feed which you wouldn’t normally do, and that costs money,” Puhrmann said.

Now, farmers buying hay in the winter are paying more because the drought and demand for hay put pressure on the hay market.

“To feed those cows is going to cost me a lot more money this winter to get them back to where they're grazing again next summer,” Puhrmann said.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach will hold a series of meetings in late January in northwest Iowa to help producers recover. They’ll talk about how producers can repair pastures and what financial assistance is out there.

Like Puhrmann’s pastures, other pastures in the area were grazed down very short, said Iowa State University extension beef specialist Beth Doran. The big question is how quickly they’ll recover.

“There’s been some grasses and some legumes like clovers and alfalfa that may die out this winter,” Doran said. “So [producers] may have to go back in and do some reseeding come this spring.”

Puhrmann said he’ll consider some interseeding options to repair his pastures and get the grasses back under control. It's a way to put plant species into the grass to improve those grasses and help them recover.

“We'll probably have to fertilize some more and keep our fingers crossed and pray for rain,” Puhrmann said. “Hopefully we get left with some water to grow grass again next summer.”

The ISU Extension and Outreach drought recovery meetings are set for Jan. 20, 24 and 25 in Emmetsburg, Estherville and Royal. Preregistrationis required.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.